Friday, January 31, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/30/20: At Last a Hike, Leftovers, Zags Win; So Do the Terps

1. The snow has pretty much melted off of The Trail (as we used to call it) that runs along the west side of the hill behind the medical center from Riverside/Mission Ave. to the high school. Today I walked on The Trail to the start of the medical center's Wellness Trail that goes up that hill to see if it was clear.

It was.

I hoped it wouldn't be muddy.

It wasn't.

As a result, as if I were having a reunion with a great pal, I hiked the Wellness Trail, gave my legs a pretty good workout, got my heart rate up, and got winded, but not desperately out of breath.

If this warmer weather holds for a while longer, I look forward to more hikes on this trail. It felt awesome to get my old bones in motion again.

2. That rice salad I made for family dinner on Sunday is delicious rolled, with salsa, in a browned flour tortilla. The chili mac casserole has also been a tasty leftover throughout the week -- and I still have some more in the fridge.

3. Because I subscribe to Fubo, an internet television service, and because CBSSN is one of Fubo's offerings, I was able to watch the Zags (the men) defeat Santa Clara last night, 87-72. It was a costly win for Gonzaga and a hard fought one. Early in the game, Gonzaga's Killian Tillie crumpled to the floor after rolling his ankle. He was helped off the floor to the locker room, returned a bit later to the bench, but did not return to play. That's what was costly in the Zags' win.

Why hard fought? Santa Clara played with determination, had some streaks of hot shooting, and made Gonzaga work hard for this victory -- much harder than when they lost to the Zags by 50 points two weeks ago. Gonzaga had a lousy night shooting from the perimeter, but made up for it by scoring 62 points in the key, a remarkable number and a game saver for the Bulldogs.

I was actually more interested in an earlier game in College Park, MD between Iowa and Maryland. Maryland has had few subpar performances on the road -- one of them was against Iowa --, but tonight, at home, Maryland played with great energy and their star tandem of Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith played brilliantly, leading the Terps to victory, 82-72. I regret that I never attended a home basketball game when I lived only about fifteen or twenty minutes from College Park, but just seeing Maryland play at home stirred a host of great memories of things I enjoyed at College Park: worshiping at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, hiking trails in and around College Park, enjoying bagels and coffee at the Bagel Place, taking an occasional stroll on campus, eating breakfast, just once, at the now demolished Plato's Diner before it was destroyed in a fire and razed to make room for new development, and eating from time to time at the classic College Park Diner.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/29/20: Charly's Trek, My First Sazerac, Second Place Again

1. It was like one of those animal kingdom shows when we see an aerial view of a lone, say, wolf on a long unbroken tundra, walking by itself, leaving a long trail of its own footsteps in the snow. I looked out behind the house to check on Charly. She had decided to take a walk through the unbroken snow all the way to one of the planters in the very back of the yard. I wasn't sure, given her limited mobility, if she would be able to make the return journey. She did. Charly is a determined Corgi, animated by a hardy spirit more powerful than her weakening rear legs.  I could hear the somber narrator's voice: "Alone, undaunted by the vast landscape of snow crusted with ice, the elderly Corgi, enfeebled by her failing rear legs, dragged herself to her destination and back home again, a profile of valor."

2. I kept a close watch on reports about travel conditions between Kellogg and Spokane today. Since they were favorable, I revved up the Sube and headed to the Riverbank Tap House at the Northern Quest Casino just west of Spokane to join Mary and Kathy to play trivia.

Earlier in the day, after having been thinking and writing about fennel, I looked into licorice flavored liqueurs and I looked at the Riverbank cocktail list. The Riverbank serves a sazerac -- a cocktail I'd never tried before -- and so I had decided before I left Kellogg to try one.

This sazerac combined rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud's bitters, simple syrup, and lemon peel. The flavor I was least interested in was the simple syrup and, for my taste, this cocktail was just a wee bit too sweet -- nothing cloying, but I wondered if the flavors of the bitters, rye whiskey, and absinthe might have come forward more with less simple syrup. So, sometime in the future, I'm going to buy some absinthe and see if I can find Peychaud bitters and experiment with this cocktail at home. It could be that, if I order this drink again, I'll request one with less sugar. Or maybe none.

3. At the Riverbank, the trivia game consists of five rounds of ten questions each. Kathy, Mary, and I were leading the pack after four rounds -- which meant we were ahead of the team of young guys whom we've never outscored.  They won last week. We finished second.

The final round exposed what the three of us know is an Achilles heel for us with a Harry Potter question and a Marvel movie question.

The team of young guys knows Harry Potter, Marvel movies, and, I might add, video games (another of our weaknesses) inside out and they squeaked ahead of us.

We finished second again.

We were happy with one another's efforts. We had a fun time together and will continue to live in the hope that one of these Wednesday nights we won't be asked any Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings/video games/Superhero movie questions (I might add pirates and zombies, too) and find a way to triumph over our most worthy opponents -- well, they are more than opponents -- over our nemesis!

I should add, for the sake of accuracy, Kathy has come through and offered up correct answers to video game questions. All the same, none of us considers ourselves very strong in this area of trivia.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/28/20: Lonely Charly, Creamy Crab Stock Tomato Sauce, Fennel Seed Memories

1. I went to bed Monday night and Charly seemed to be what is now her usual self. She spends most of her time lying on or near a couple of quilts placed on the rug that covers much of the living room. Before her legs began to give out, Charly often joined me in the Vizio room and, until about three months or so ago, she joined me on the bed at night.

No longer.

Now she confines herself to this one area, sleeps quite a bit, and she signals to me with whimpering when she's hungry, thirsty, or needs to be carried out back to do her business.

She doesn't cry or pant in pain. In fact, when she does drag herself out to the kitchen or when she occasionally goes on a safari, dragging herself to far regions of the backyard, it doesn't appear that it's painful.

As Monday night stretched past midnight, Charly was out of sorts, whimpering. After one o'clock or so, I got out of bed, fed her, made sure she had water, and I carried her outside. Usually food and a trip outside help settle her down, but not tonight. I went to bed. Charly cried. I got up. She stopped crying, ate a little more, possibly went out more times (I was groggy), but as soon as I returned to bed, Charly resumed whimpering.

It's never quite happened before, but I hypothesized that Charly was lonely.

By now, it was about 4:30 a.m.

I fixed myself a cup of coffee. I sat in the living room. I started writing.

Charly relaxed. She fell asleep.

She just wanted company.

2. Coincidentally, Charly's restlessness took place during a night when I was charged up, too.

Some nights when I go to bed I can hardly wait for the next day to come because of what I have planned.  Most often, it's a hike to somewhere I've never been (Stevens Lake, for example) that has me eager to get up in the morning, but, right now, with the trails I normally hike covered with snow, my excitement through the night was in anticipation of a cooking project.

On Monday, I did some reading about how to use crab stock. Thanks to all the crab shells I bring home from the February Elks Crab Feed, I have made a lot of crab stock and, every time I've used it, I've made some kind of fish chowder -- and I've loved it.

But, I have been wondering about other possibilities.

Online, I discovered things written about combining crab stock with tomatoes and other ingredients to make a pasta sauce.

Charly was restless for her reasons.

I was excited throughout the night in anticipation of cooking pasta sauce and using crab stock in a new way.

Around 10:00 this morning or so, my first move, once I'd thawed a quart of crab stock, was to reduce it, thus steaming about half of its liquid content out and intensifying the crab flavor.

I poured a quart of my homemade crab stock into a pot, brought it to a boil, turned down the heat and reduced the stock for about fifteen or twenty minutes down to about a pint.

I didn't have a specific recipe to follow. I had read some descriptions of making crab sock/tomato sauce, seen some recipes that gave me an idea of ingredients, but, mostly, I was on my own.

I like buttery things. So, I put a chunk of butter in the Dutch oven, melted it, added about three or four cloves of garlic and a chopped onion and sauteed them.

When the onion was soft, I poured the reduced stock into the Dutch oven and decided to add three 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes and appropriate, unmeasured amounts of salt, fennel seeds, tarragon, a couple of bay leaves, thyme, and some extra dry vermouth.

I cooked this down. I loved how it smelled. I lost track of time, but at some point I decided it was close to the thickness I wanted and I slowly added an unmeasured and rather slight amount of heavy cream to this sauce and let it continue to cook on a low heat while I boiled a batch of macaroni.

I suppose I had originally thought that I'd cook this sauce and boil the macaroni at evening dinner time.

I couldn't wait.

The sauce gently bubbled. I made some macaroni, and I greedily ate all the macaroni I cooked with my crab stock fennel creamy tomato pasta sauce poured over the top of it and I was as happy as I've ever been with something I made.

I had a quart left over, so some time in the next few days, I'll get to serve myself more of this sauce. I just hope in the meantime I can keep my greedy, gluttonous self from sneaking spoonfuls of sauce out of the container.

3. Good Lord.


Why had it taken me so long to cook again with fennel?

About thirty-five years ago, I went through a phase of drinking licorice root tea. About that same time, I frequented the Keystone Cafe. The Keystone experienced a change of owners and a guy I never knew, but saw around Eugene a lot back then and in the ensuing years, named Bruce cooked at the "new" Keystone. One day, I ordered a huevo rancheros and Bruce had seasoned his sauce with fennel.

The flavor of that sauce floored me.

I didn't know what gave the sauce that subtle licorice flavor and I screwed up my courage and asked Bruce about it and he told me that the taste I so enjoyed was fennel.

I was in graduate school then and I used to make tomato sauce in large batches to eat with pasta and with my own versions of foods with tortillas. I started adding fennel to my tomato sauce and I loved it.

Something happened, though, and I quit using fennel. I'm wondering, but I'm not sure, if when Debbie and I got together if maybe fennel just didn't work in our new family. That's very possible.

After a long fennel drought, though, it returned to 940 Madison back on January 7, 2011. On a whim, not knowing what I was doing, I bought a porketta from Carlton Farms at the South Eugene Market of Choice. Upon bringing it home, I discovered that the porketta was seasoned with, among other herbs and spices, fennel. My blog post from that day reports that I thought it was the best pork I'd ever eaten and that Debbie remarked that she couldn't believe we were eating such delicious food in our home.

I bought and cooked more of these pre-seasoned porkettas over the next few years, but, somehow, aside from the porketta, fennel didn't make a comeback in my cooking.

I don't remember ever cooking with fennel in Maryland nor back in Kellogg, until today.

When I went shopping to make today's crab stock sauce, I didn't have fennel seeds on hand. I'm having trouble remembering the last time I had a supply.

So, eating this sauce today was not only a sensory pleasure, it brought back memories I cherish of the mid-1980s Keystone Cafe and those graduate school years when I lived alone in a cozy basement apartment at 361 W. Broadway in Eugene and learned how to cook delicious and nutritious meatless food in a tiny kitchen, living on a limited budget, and set my love of cooking into permanent motion.

Today, it was invigorating to have the taste of fennel and those old fennel seed years come back to me.

My next move?  Don't let the fennel get away again.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/27/20: Stock and Sauce, Meet Ups, Iowa Over Wisconsin

1. I'd had the bones of a whole chicken sitting in the freezer for a few months. Finally, on Sunday, I put them in the crock pot with onion, celery, carrot, zucchini, parsley, cilantro, and some salt and today I decided it had bubbled long enough and I strained the stock and filled three quart containers.

I have this one quart of crab stock that came out really dark. I don't quite understand why, but I'm going to try reducing it and then adding tomatoes, sauteed garlic and onion, fennel seeds, thyme, tarragon, a bay leaf, some dry vermouth, and cream and see how it tastes served over macaroni.

2. When I lived in Maryland, not too long before we moved back west, I started an account at and had a really good time on a couple of outings -- one was a walking tour of labor history in Washington, D. C. and the other was a tour of the Teamsters' headquarters -- ha! regular readers of this blog might remember that, lo and behold, the Teamsters' president, James P. Hoffa, (Jimmy's son) happened to stroll in the building as our group was gathering and he made a few welcoming remarks and shook hands with each of us participating in the tour.

Well, today I logged back into my account. The other night, Kathy and Mary mentioned that they had recently attended a meet up of French speakers in Spokane and I wondered if there might be meet up groups doing things I'd like to do.

I joined a couple of groups -- one a hiking group, the other a longevity activity group (sometimes this group has walking meetups). If I lived in Spokane, I would join the hiking group this Saturday on a short trek from Pallisades Park to Riverside State Park. It sounds kind of perfect for my current state of conditioning. It's a two mile hike with very little elevation gain. Although I won't be joining this one, I'm now aware of Pallisades Park, a place that has completely escaped my notice over the last, oh, forty-five years or so. I'll look for other meet ups, but, definitely, once spring weather comes back around, I want to check this place out. Byrdman and I are always looking for spots to go hiking. We went on a really good hike this past fall in Riverside Park and want to hike at Painted Rocks (it was closed last time we went there) and I could see us adding Pallisades Park to our rota.

3. The Iowa Hawkeyes are proving to be an interesting basketball team. Tonight they hosted the short-handed Wisconsin Badgers and came from about twelve points down with around five minutes to play and surged to a 68-62 victory. The Hawkeyes have a balanced and versatile attack on offense and this evening, as they mounted their comeback, their three quarter court press rattled Wisconsin, forced the Badgers into turnovers, and caused them to by out of sync as they set up their offense, once they crossed the ten second line at half court.

On Thursday, Iowa travels to Maryland. The game will be on the Big 10 Network and I'm eager to see if the Terps can hold serve at home and just how they will deal with the inside strength of Iowa's Luka Garza and the way Iowa loves to have their other players both drive to the basket and look for open three point shots. Tonight Iowa shot poorly from three point land, but often they are dangerous from distance.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/26/20: I'm in Charge?, Family Dinner, Grief Stricken Ducks and Beavers

1. Saturday night I dropped in on Christy and Everett. The Zag game was a blow out and was winding down. The game did not require our rapt attention. At one point, Christy casually asked me, "Are you looking forward to hosting family dinner tomorrow?"

"It's at my house? It's not at Carol's?"

My mouth went dry. Low grade panic built inside me.

Christy replied, "I'm sure it's at your house. Let me check."

She looked on her phone or her hard copy calendar and confirmed it: yes, I was in charge of family dinner on 1-26.

Let's see, I thought, the house needs vacuuming, the sink is full of dishes to be washed, the dishwasher is full, and I don't have the ingredients at home to fix a dinner for five. In fact, I've been spending time over the last week planning, in my head, alternatives for hosting family dinner in February.

I put on my courage face and faked confidence, replying, "OK. I'll work out something."

Last Sunday at family dinner, we had talked about how when Christy, Carol, and I were children, we rarely had casseroles. Dad had a strong bias against casseroles. Once in a while, Mom fixed us the tuna casserole from the recipe found on the back of a Nalley's potato chip box, but, I think, only if Dad wasn't having dinner with us -- which was rare. (I might have this wrong, but somehow we had this casserole once in while, you know, with the ground potato chips on top.)

So I returned home. I thought about casseroles and about a macaroni with ground beef and tomato dish Mom used to make and I pondered comments I'd made one night at another get together about my general dissatisfaction with Mexican restaurants near and far. I plunged into Pinterest. I looked at taco casserole recipes, saw that there were enchilada and burrito casseroles, and then I saw a link to -- I'm trying to remember -- 30 was it? -- simple Mexican casserole recipes.

I clicked on it and scrolled through a handful of recipes and one called Chili Mac Casserole caught my eye. It was kind of a TexMex recipe, I suppose, akin to that macaroni dish Mom used to make, and looked to me like it would fit my desire to cook up some comfort food.

2. So, I made a commitment to Chili Mac Casserole and decided I'd put put more cumin and chili powder in it than the recipe called for. I also decided I'd go beyond the recipe and add chopped olives to the top of it as well as a layer of tortilla chips. The recipe is here. If I make it again, I won't use as much tomato paste as the recipe calls for -- or I'll just bag the tomato paste altogether. Christy suggested subbing tomato sauce. I'll look into that idea and ponder it. My version today doubled the amount of beans (I used black beans, not kidney) and cut the amount of ground beef in half.

For appetizers, I put four flour tortillas on a baking sheet, covered half the tortilla with grated Mexican cheese and salsa, folded the tortilla over, and put the half circles under the broiler until one side was brown, flipped them, and gave the cheese time to melt. Later on, I returned them to the oven on a low heat and warmed them up. I cut these quesadillas into wedges and served them.

I also made a rice salad, combining jasmine rice, a chopped red pepper, black beans seasoned with cumin, avocado bits, and halved cherry tomatoes. I dressed it with olive oil and rice vinegar. I wish I'd put olives in it and I wish I'd remembered to buy cilantro. Next time.

I also made margaritas. I was determined not to buy mix at the store, but I didn't like the look of the limes at Yoke's so I bought a handful of those plastic limes with lime juice in them and mixed tequila, triple sec, and lime juice together. I am going to start reading up on different homemade margarita mixes. I wish I knew what Billy McCallum's margarita mix recipe is at Billy Macs in Eugene. I'll just have to experiment and see if I can make something like it.

3. Starting at 1 o'clock, I did my best to prepare dinner and watch today's Civil War basketball game between the Ducks and Beavers, the women's teams, in Corvallis. I brought cans into the Vizio room to open while I watched the game. I went to the kitchen during commercial breaks and at half time to brown ground beef, saute onions and garlic, boil macaroni, and keep things moving along.

Today's game was shot through with fresh grief. Not long before tip off, both teams learned about the death of Kobe Bryant.

For women basketball players, losing Kobe Bryant was especially devastating. After his retirement from the Lakers, unlike any other NBA player I'm aware of, Kobe became an impassioned advocate for and supporter of women's basketball.

In particular, he had developed a close relationship, as a mentor and a friend, with Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu. He visited Oregon's team. He and Ionescu texted and talked every week. It was no secret that Sabrina Ionescu, in many ways, patterned her competitiveness and the way she plays after the example of Kobe Bryant.

Maybe you've seen pictures or video of how the Ducks and Beavers responded to the news of Bryant's death, how about an hour before game time the members of both teams gathered at half court in Gill Coliseum and formed a circle, held hands, some opponents with arms around each other's shoulders, and prayed and wept.

As game time approached, Ionsecu's eyes were red and her face was swollen from crying. She used a Sharpie and inscribed "Forever 24" with a heart symbol on her basketball shoes.

Honestly (and I know those in charge of things couldn't do it), but I think if the Athletic Directors had decided to postpone this game, it would have been understandable.

Instead, the Ducks and Beavers played a brisk and very competitive basketball game.

Once underway, these women did what all of us who follow sports have seen many athletes do over the years. They focused on the task at hand and played a great game.

To me, this one was decided in the second half when Oregon found a way to put the defensive clamps on the Beavers. They figured out ways to stop the Beaver's Mikalya Pivec's drive and cuts to the hoop; they closed off the inside, severely limiting Taylor Jones' effectiveness, and they hounded the Beavers shooters from beyond the three point line. The Ducks forced turnovers. They kept the Beavers off the boards, often limiting the Beaver's offense to a single shot. Steadily, the Ducks built a lead that swelled to over ten points and, in the end, triumphed, 66-57.

None of these Ducks had ever won a game at OSU before. Neither had Coach Kelly Graves. I enjoyed how the Ducks not only got plenty of points from their three best players, Ionsescu, Hebard, and Sabbaly, but, off the bench both Taylor Chavez and Jaz Shelley hit shots at key times that helped the Ducks significantly.

After the game, Sabrina Ionsescu consented to a brief on court interview. It ended when she stated, (and I might not have words exactly right), "Everything I do is for Kobe" and walked away, grieving.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/25/20: Polished and Rough, Memories of Basketball Vertigo, Good Vibes at the Lounge

1. Here's what I enjoy about Patrick O'Brian's portrayal of Jack Aubrey: he is polished and rough. He loves classical music and plays the violin, is intellectually curious, and, while clumsy when it comes to figures and mathematical calculations on paper, can make instantaneous nautical calculations about his ship's behavior, not only on the spur of the moment, but in the heat of battle.  At the same time, he over serves himself alcohol, makes coarse comments (he had to escorted out of one social occasion thanks to his loose and offending tongue), and, well, when it comes to his relations with women, chastity is not one of his chief virtues. He can be compassionate, but is unmoved by watching men under his command be flogged. His lieutenant, James Dillon, accuses him of being reckless in his pursuit of prizes at sea, but then suggests he's a coward when he has his ship retreat when his small ship and crew are overmatched by an enemy ship.

In other words, the suspense of this novel -- and possibly of the nineteen Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin novels to follow -- is built, in part, upon not knowing how Jack Aubrey will respond (or react) to situations at sea and on land, but, as a reader, I'm always confident that Patrick O'Brian has not created a single-dimensional character who will always act virtuously or heroically, but sometimes will. (By the way, in the spirit of many epic stories, O'Brian's novel demonstrates that ideals like virtuous and heroic are never fixed ideals, but are mutable.)

2. Sometimes I daydream about when I was on the Kellogg Wildcat basketball team (1969-72). My daydreams often focus on our games with teams that creamed us, especially Coeur d'Alene (although the Wildcats beat them in '72), Moscow (the Wildcats nearly beat them at districts in '72), Ferris, and Shadle Park. I try to imagine ways we might have been better coached, better conditioned, used different strategies, something, to have played better against the teams that drubbed us.

Then I remember the vertigo.

In consecutive games -- in fact, the first two games of the 70-71 season  (my junior year) --, I was a starter and we lost to both Coeur d'Alene and Ferris by 50+ points, surrendering over 100 points both nights. Keep in mind, these games were only 32 minutes long. For a basketball team to score over 100 points is a remarkable feat.

As both of these games unfolded, the superior speed, size, conditioning, and experience combined with these teams' blanketing defense, dizzied me.

I don't know if any of my teammates experienced this (I was, admittedly, a soft player), but as these teams scored at will from the perimeter and in the post, as they snatched nearly every one of our missed shots and raced far faster than us to their own basket and scored one unchallenged basket after another, I could hardly tell up from down. My mind was scrambled, my body was shutting down, I had no wind, and, a couple of times, I wanted to vomit.

I bring this up because late this afternoon, I went to Kellogg High School and watched the Wildcat varsity boys get trounced by Moscow. Now, Moscow didn't score 100 points -- the final score was 61-39 -- but, Moscow's coach pulled his first string pretty early in both the second and fourth quarters and Kellogg tried to slow things down when in possession of the ball. These factors kept the score down to some degree.

But, watching Moscow's starters dominate Kellogg with their far superior height, inside scoring, outside shooting, and speed brought back memories of when I experienced similar mismatches.

I couldn't tell if any of the Kellogg players felt dizzy and disoriented, but watching them struggle tonight made me think my daydreams, while fun to play out in my mind, really are fanciful. And while some fans around me were grumbling about how the hometown squad couldn't rebound missed shots or got hassled into turnovers or were unable to defend Moscow's ability to score from the point, the wings, the pivot, and on putbacks, I felt something like empathy for the 'Cats.

For me, playing against a taller, quicker, faster, better shooting, and better defending team was demoralizing and disorienting and it helped me put my own experience in a clearer perspective to watch the Bears dismantle the Wildcats this evening.

I should add, before tonight, Kellogg had won their last four games, beating St. Maries, Wallace, Bonners Ferry, and Sandpoint. I saw the 'Cats play Wallace and Bonners Ferry. Kellogg disrupted these teams, pressed them, rebounded well, and scored off of steals and turnovers. Against Moscow's superior ball handlers and speed, Kellogg didn't apply full court pressure. (I think this was a good move.) Against Wallace and Bonners Ferry, Kellogg was looking to speed up the game, create chaos. Tonight, Kellogg didn't want to speed up Moscow. They tried to slow them down, but Kellogg is not a very good outside shooting team (especially with Graden Nearing out injured) and so their longer possessions often ended in heavily contested shots inside and missed shots from the perimeter, often triggering Moscow's fast break.

Kellogg plays Priest River next and it will be a much better game for the Wildcats.

3. After the game, Ed and I met for a couple of cocktails at the Lounge. We had a great time yakkin' with each other, having a fun visit with Val, joking around with Cas, and enjoying tonight's good vibes. Afterward, I checked in with Christy and Everett and watched the last seven minutes or so of Gonzaga's thumping of Pacific and my busy mind once again returned to thumpings I experienced nearly fifty years ago as a Wildcat and I once again felt some of the pain the current Wildcat squad must have felt tonight at The Drew.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/24/20: Virtue of Reading Slowly, What a Mess!, Ducks Win and Some Thoughts

1. Because it's taken me much of this week to get halfway through Master and Commander, it's a good thing I subscribe to Robertson Davies' arguments regarding the virtue of slow reading, of slowing things down, sometimes, by moving my lips, silently sounding out the sentences, tracing their main and subordinate clauses, which glide like rivers, fed by tributaries, enjoying how O'Brian's sentences flow out of the headwaters of the beginning capital letter to the sea of the period. (A quick online search will put you in touch with people with titles like "productivity trainer/consultant" who will discourage reading this way. It's not "productive" to move one's lips while reading; it impedes speed.)

I'm enjoying how O'Brian develops his novel's episodes both externally, as he takes us into the claps of rifles, thunder of cannons, and the storms of sea battles, and internally, as he continues to dive into the internal thoughts, reflections, emotions, and struggles of the story's characters. I follow the inward movement better than the battles, but I'm more familiar with fears, resentments, love, pride, doubt, yearning, self-examination, and memory than I am with gun powder and volleys.

2. The thought crossed my mind today that if I had a stroke or a heart attack or something and someone came into my house to make a welfare check, they might marvel at what a mess I'm currently living in -- dishwasher half full, sesame seeds on the kitchen floor and rug, a sink nearly full of dishes to be cleaned, open mail scattered on the kitchen table, grocery bags lying around.

It's evidence that I'm absorbed in reading a book. I chuckled tonight at the disarray. It reminded me of when, as a graduate student, I lived alone in a little basement apartment at 361 W. Broadway in Eugene and got so wrapped up in reading, writing, and grading students' papers that I'd become nearly oblivious to the empty coffee cups, plates and saucers and pans crusted with food, and little piles of clothes that needed to be laundered.

I did, however, complete some tasks today outside of reading battles erupting on the Mediterranean Sea: I laundered my sheets and pillow cases; went to the bank and signed a document for Debbie in the presence of a notary and sent it back to Eugene, helping further Debbie being able to draw her retirement pension; I returned Lucy Cooke's riveting book to the library; I entrusted my Avista bill to the parking lot drop box; I picked up a few things at Yoke's.

Mostly, though, I read, ignoring my house's clutter.

3. Seven o'clock rolled around and I secured myself comfortably in the Vizio room with a bowl of popcorn, made text message contact with Linda Schantol in Eugene, and tuned in to the Oregon/Oregon State women's basketball game at the U of O's Matthew Knight Arena.

The Beavers blazed to a 10-2 lead behind Destiny Slocum's three point splashes and Taylor Jones's low post prowess. The Ducks started out wobbly, but about halfway through the first quarter and throughout the second quarter, they dominated the Beavers. Their scoring came from everywhere: Sabrina Ionescu hit floaters in the key (and a rainbow three launched from St. Mary's Episcopal Church at 13th and Pearl to end the first quarter), Taylor Chavez peppered the hoop with threes, Ruthy Hebard danced around Taylor Jones in the pivot to make hook shots and short jumpers, Satou Sabally drove aggressively to the iron and drew fouls -- and made her free throws.

Oregon held a 45-29 lead at halftime and for a stretch of about 12-14 minutes looked indomitable. Not only were the Ducks scoring out of their offensive sets, but they disrupted the Beavers with energetic defense, converting Beaver turnovers into points in the open court.

The Beavers did not back down and actually outscored the Ducks 35-31 in the second half. The Beavers dug in on defense, forcing the Ducks into some off-balance and maybe even ill-chosen shots and both Destiny Slocum and Aleah Goodman made some crucial three pointers and Taylor Jones continued to score inside. The Beavers narrowed Oregon's lead to under ten points in the fourth quarter, but missed a series of shots late in the game and Oregon scored a combination of field goals and free throws and won the game, 76-64.

I'm no basketball expert, but the fun thing about writing in a blog is that I can try out some insights and see it they pan out over time.

So here's what I think about the Ducks as they prepare to play the Beavers again on Sunday, this time in Corvallis, at 1 p.m.

To me, the Ducks have three of the strongest players in the nation in Ionescu, Sabally, and Hebard. I also think highly of Erin Boley. She is a valuable part of the Ducks' offense. She sets excellent screens, is becoming increasingly adept at cutting to the basket and scoring off of other players' passes, is herself a fine passer, and is always a threat to score from deep -- in fact, at times, Boley can get rolling and score bunches of points from the outside.

I think, however, the Ducks haven't quite nailed down the fifth position on the floor. Last night, especially late in the game, Minyon Moore contributed very valuable minutes, especially on defense. I've read that her goal for this season was to be named the conference's defensive player of the year. I don't think that will happen, but no matter: she is a spirited and disrupting defender.

On offense, I'm not so sure about Moore's role. She started tonight's game, but Coach Graves pulled her in the first quarter and her time on the bench pretty much coincided with Ducks' great run in the first half, and, her substitute, Taylor Chavez contributed (I think) nine huge points off the bench.

The problem is that when Moore sits, Ionescu becomes the team's point guard and I think Ionsecu performs better when another player runs the offense and she serves as a kind of combination secondary point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. In the second half tonight, I thought there were times when the Ducks seemed more like a three member team than five -- a very good three member team, mind you, but Boley was on the bench a lot and it seemed to me that combinations of Moore, Chavez, and Jaz Shelly didn't always gel very well with Ionescu, Hebard, and Sabally.

I have to say that many teams across the country wish they were dealing with what I've described here!

Not only that, but if this is a problem that needs to be ironed out (and it might not be -- I might be totally wrong here!), the Ducks have several weeks to work on it before tournament time.

It's not at all unusual for teams in college basketball to be in the process of forging a team identity all through the season. I see the Ducks as continuing to work out how to compensate for the loss of last year's point guard, Maite Cazorla, to graduation. On the telecast a week ago, when the Ducks played Cal, the games' broadcasters made this very point. They thought Minyon Moore was progressing, learning more of the Duck playbook, discovering her role on this team, and always playing lock down defense, but they observed that it might be a while before she has totally learned and adapted to the Ducks' system. That's not a criticism, by the way. As brilliant as the Ducks are, this is not a deep team (only seven Ducks played last night) and as Minyon Moore and her teammates come to understand Moore's role on this team for fully and their comfort with one another grows, the Ducks will continue to improve.

I'm not looking for arguments about what I've said here, but if you've read this far, watch the Ducks, and have thoughts about what I've written here, I'd enjoy reading what you think.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/23/20: Jack Gets More Complex, Chicken Soup Surprise, Nightcap

1. In the first few chapters of Master and Commander, even though the narrator tells the story from a third person point of view, Capt. Jack Aubrey holds the narrator's sympathies, I'd say, and the story draws a mostly positive picture of him. As the novel progresses, though, the narrator takes us into other characters' observations and attitudes toward Capt. Jack Aubrey, giving us a more complex picture. In particular, we listen in on a private conversation between the ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin and Aubrey's Lieutenant, James Dillon, two men who knew each other several years ago as Irish revolutionaries (and are keeping that shared history secret). I'm not going to give away why James Dillon has misgivings about Jack Aubrey. No, I simply want to note that as this tale's hero,  Capt. Jack Aubrey is flawed (we begin to see this even without James Dillon's intimations). The men in his service have varying degrees of respect for and doubts about him. Aubrey himself occasionally feels the worm of self-doubt gnawing away at his inward thoughts.

I wrote earlier that I thought one of reasons Patrick O'Brian writes in such copious detail about the ship, the Sophie, is to demonstrate what a comprehensive understanding Jack Aubrey possesses of this vessel and its physical complexities. I wondered if Capt. Aubrey would also have a similarly comprehensive grasp of the complexities of the men under his command and understand how to address their brokenness, the leaks they spring, move them in the direction he wants them to go, and deal with the challenges they present.

I'm two hundred pages in and, so far, an assessment of Capt. Aubrey's leadership and his understanding and treatment of his charges would be not only premature, but impossible.

2.  A week ago, I cooked a pot of chicken soup, using chicken stock I had made. This evening, I heated up the last pint or so of that soup. The soup took me aback. It was far better tasting this evening than I remembered it being last week -- a pleasant surprise.

3. I spent much of the day reading Master and Commander. Around 9:30 or so I put the book down and mixed myself a dry martini, up, stirred, with olives, in a chilled martini glass. The book had me a bit wound up and this single cocktail helped relax me and put me comfortably to sleep.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/22/20: Slow Reading, On the Road, Trivia at the Riverbank

1.  I'm almost a hundred pages into Master and Commander. I am enjoying this early part of the book. It brought to mind a pair of Robertson Davies' lectures I used to own, published as a slim volume, entitled, simply, Reading and Writing.  (If you'd like to read these lectures, you no longer need to buy them as a book.  They can be found on the World Wide Web right here.)

At this moment, I don't have a detailed memory of these lectures. Having found them online, I will read them again. I first read them over twenty-five years ago and two points stand out: a) the virtue of reading slowly (and, I might add, the pleasure of reading books that can't be read fast) and b) the pleasure of possessing a vast vocabulary (which I don't) and of reading books that extend one's vocabulary, send one diving into a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words and terms.

Master and Commander is turning out, for me, to be a story I cannot read quickly. Often, on Amazon or on Facebook or at Goodreads, I've read positive reviews of books reflecting the reader's delight that s/he read the whole book in on sitting or that was a good read --  the reviewer got through the book really fast. I get it. I've read books that moved lickity split and enjoyed the thrill of turning pages quickly, feeling my adrenaline coursing through my veins.

In its first couple of chapters, Master and Commander is not such a book -- although I'm wondering if its pace might pick up once Jack Aubrey's ship and its crew enter into into battle at sea.

No, the first couple of chapters slowly and carefully begin to develop three characters: Jack Aubrey, Stephen Maturin, and, to my way of seeing it, the ship itself, the Sophie. Patrick O'Brian meticulously details the different structural features of the Sophie and the human characters' relationships with these parts of the ship. He employs copious specialized nautical language and has sent me to online dictionaries and to websites with captioned illustrations of old ships and accompanying glossaries so that I can begin to understand these terms. I'm also turning frequently to the dictionary to look up non-nautical words O'Brian employs and to find the meaning of Latin phrases and allusions to historical thinkers and composers his learned characters, Maturin and Aubrey, drop with ease and without pretension into conversation with one another.

These terms and these unfamiliar words and phrases are by no means part of my active vocabulary -- I don't know if they ever will be. But, it seems to me that to understand Jack Aubrey's character, a reader needs to understand his grasp of the physical details of the ship and the non-nautical words he uses in his thoughts and observations to describe the world he inhabits.  I'm wondering if his encyclopedic knowledge of the ship's different parts and their functions, as the story of his first turn as the captain of a ship develops, will be matched by a similarly deep knowledge and understanding of the men under his command. I'm sure I will soon begin to find out what Captain Jack Aubrey understands about human conduct and needs and what sorts of things he needs to learn -- and whether he does.

2. Around 4:00 or so, I vaulted into the Sube and bolted through the wind and the rain to the Conoco station on Highway 3, about a mile south of I-90, to meet up with Linda Lavigne, pile into her pickup, and head over to the Riverbank Taphouse at the Northern Quest Casino outside Spokane to join forces with Mary and Kathy and play some trivia.

Linda and I got each other caught up on all kinds of things on our drive to Spokane. You'd think now that we are entering our mid to late sixties, things might slow down a bit in our lives, but that's hardly the case. Whether we talked about our health, dogs, impact of the weather, our kids and grandkids, or our living situations, there's just a lot going on. Linda and I always have great conversations about Kellogg and the Silver Valley, sharing news about what people we've known over the years are up to these days and recalling the days of our youth in our neighborhoods, at church, at the high school, and in the activities we took part in at school.

It's a lot of fun to have so much to talk about and the roads to Spokane were good, making it even easier to yak and enjoy one another's company.

3. Soon after Linda and I arrived at the casino, Mary and Kathy strolled in. Earlier in the day, online, we had discussed what our team name might be. The Bent Trivia Company, who puts on the Wednesday trivia game at the Riverband Taphouse, required that our team name include the letters "nac".

We toyed with a handful of team names: Frequently Unaccompanied, Unaccompanied Miners, Unaccompanied Minors, but settled on Mary's first suggestion: Menacing Geriatrics.

Our name won us the evening's prize for best team name.

Tonight's taplist at the taphouse was especially fun. Recently, Sierra Nevada had held a 40th anniversary party at the Riverbank and the venerable brewery put 40 beers on tap. I'd read publicity about this party and knew that Sierra Nevada had promised to feature rare beers that one might never have a chance to try again. Quite a number of the beers from that party were still available and I decided to try a half pint of Barrel-aged Torpedo IPA. I enjoyed it, but I was done with beer. I'd come tonight wanting to try a Manhattan mixed with Basil Hayden Rye Whiskey and so I ordered one. The rye was mixed with Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (I will be looking into learning about this -- I'm 100% ignorant) and orange bitters. It was a heavenly cocktail. My order of Bahn Mi Chicken Tacos arrived before I'd finished my drink, but I didn't want to mix the taste of pickled vegetables with the Manhattan, so I took my time, finished my cocktail, and then plunged into the spicy and fermented folds of my taco dinner.


The Menacing Geriatrics finished in second place tonight.

The first place team was a group of young guys who had defeated us a while back -- if I remember correctly, their team is composed of a medical student, some teachers, and possibly another learned guy. I think I remember that Mary had gone over to talk with them back in November or December -- I think they got every question right that night -- and reported back that they were very pleasant fellows.

But, pleasant or not, I think Mary, Kathy, Linda and I would consider it the snow-capped summit of our Trivia playing career if one night we could saunter into the Riverbank Taphouse and outwit these guys.

Look out.

I think the Menacing Geriatrics might be on a mission.

Maybe from God.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/21/20: Quick Check Up, Kibbeh and Granola, Lucy Cooke and *Master and Commander*

1. I'm finished with the medical/industrial complex until March. Originally, I was scheduled to see my Primary Care Provider just before Christmas, but I rescheduled that appointment because I wanted to talk with her after I had my annual transplant list review in November, a second (limited) echocardiogram a couple weeks ago and talked with the cardiologist, and after my nephrology appointment last week.

I'm glad I did. I had blood work done in November and more done for Dr. Bieber. I was hoping not to have more. She didn't order more. Once I reviewed with Dr. Herold that I was feeling good and the results of the recent blood work, she listened to my heart and lungs, recommended that I not gain any more weight, and said she'd see me in six months.


2. Back home, I heated up a chunk of the kibbeh I made yesterday and plopped a fried egg on top of it. I liked it -- in fact, I thought the kibbeh tasted better after it rested for a night in the fridge. The bulgur softened up and, while I still would like to season my next kibbeh more than the recipe calls for, it didn't seem as bland to me today.

A few years back, on Pinterest, I found a chart for making granola. I consulted it again today, realized I had what I needed on hand to make a batch, and combined oats, golden raisins, chopped walnuts, cinnamon, vanilla extract, melted butter, and brown sugar, stirred it up pretty good, and baked it on a sheet for a half an hour at 350 degrees.

The chart is here.

3. I finished Lucy Cooke's book, The Truth About Animals and read her conclusions about the history of the troubling relationship over the years between humans and the animal kingdom, both in terms of the wildly inaccurate ways humans have written and thought about animals over the centuries and in terms of the impact our habits of making animals into one kind of a commodity or another have had on these animals' daily lives and, in the bigger picture, on their very survival.

It's among the most enjoyable books I've read. Lucy Cooke has a wicked sense of humor, especially in her discussions of animal genitalia and breeding habits, but also in her assessments of crazy ideas early naturalists had about animal life.

So, her book is at once very funny and sobering. Lucy Cooke's love of animals, boundless curiosity,
sharp wit, extensive work in different animal habitats, and shimmering writing style make the book a joy to read even as it confronts its readers with dark truths about the perils of animal life on Earth.

What to read next?

I'll answer this question with a slight detour.

I'm wondering if any of you reading this post do something I enjoy from time to time. I do SmartTV searches for movie titles, call up the movies, and watch trailers. Sometimes, I'll watch six or seven trailers in a row. My reasons are various. Sometimes I like to remind myself of highlights from a movie I watched years ago; sometimes I like to watch a series of trailers of movies featuring a particular actor; sometimes I'm curious how the trailer makers went about creating a trailer about certain movies; and, sometimes I want to see if the trailer further rouses my interest in a movie I think I'd like to watch. I often have a trailer viewing session later in the evening when I know it's too late to start watching a new movie, but I'm in the mood for some cinematic stimulation.

I do the same things with books.

I look up titles on Amazon and, when available, I click on the Look Inside feature and read passages. Let's say, for example, I would like to just sample a bit of George Eliot or Henry James or Charles Dickens. This Look Inside feature gives me a way to do this.

Well, today, after finishing Lucy Cooke, I was in an Edith Wharton frame of mind. I'd recently watched trailers for movie adaptations of two of her books, The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome. I realized that years ago I had started to read The Age of Innocence, but, for whatever reason, I didn't stick with it.

So I sampled The Age of Innocence and ordered it to be put on hold at the library.

What did I have on hand, though, that I could get going on?

Well, reading Edith Wharton put me in the mood for a certain elevated style of writing. I spotted Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander in our bookcase and I remembered that even though he started writing his series of nautical novels in the 1960s, he employed a more antiquated and certainly an erudite writing style, packed with obscure nautical terms, non-nautical words on the very edge or outside the realm of common usage, Latin phrases, allusions to philosophers and other thinkers of antiquity, and references to composers of music.

Exactly, as it turns out, what I was in the mood for.

So, with my handy cell phone by my side to refer to constantly as a dictionary, I plunged into the deep waters of Master and Commander.

I got hooked immediately, so hooked that I canceled my plans to go to KHS and watch Kellogg play Sandpoint and I read O'Brian instead of watching two Big East basketball games with the sound on. I had the games on the Vizio, but I muted the sound, looking up occasionally to check scores or watch an occasional spurt of action.  But reading took precedent over the St. John's game (they lost to Marquette) and Villanova's win over Butler.

Reading O'Brian is slow going, but his prose ignited past pleasures of reading novels written elegantly, demanding close attention, sending me every few minutes to the dictionary, and developing intriguing, psychologically complex characters.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/20/20: Inventory, Fixing Kibbeh and Tahini, Penguins -- I Had No Idea

1.  I don't stock a lot of products in our small kitchen, but, all the same, it's good to do an inventory on occasion and that's just what I did today along with vacuuming the round shelves that rotate. I found rice I didn't know I had; I found other grains I will build some meals around; I have a better sense of what spices I want to purchase.

2. Kibbeh is a popular dish of the Levant region of Western Asia, that is, countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Traditionally, kibbeh is a meat dish consisting of bulgur, ground lamb, lean beef, goat, or camel, minced onion, and spices. Kibbeh can be baked in a pan or made into balls or patties and cooked in various ways.  I decided to try a baked kibbeh recipe from the cookbook Carol gave me, Salma Hage's The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook. I boiled four potatoes, combined them with a can of garbanzo beans and some olive oil and mashed them. Into this mixture, I added two grated zucchinis and added a cup of flour. I soaked bulgur in cold water for about 10-12 minutes and folded it into the mix along with chopped parsley and cilantro.  I greased a baking dish and spread the mixture in it and baked it for an hour at 350 degrees.

I looked at some more traditional kibbeh recipes, ones with ground meat and minced onions, and, having made the vegetarian alternative, I wonder why Hage's recipe didn't call for onion or possibly garlic. I also wonder it didn't call for spices, thinking, hmmm, maybe cinnamon or allspice or cloves just wouldn't pair well with zucchini. My creation is bland. I also needed to either soak the bulgur longer or possibly boil and cook it. The bulgur grains are not as soft as I'd like them.

I'm going to make some hummus soon. Today, I made a small batch of tahini and all I need to do is combine the tahini with garbanzo beans, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice in the food processor. I'm wondering if my bland zucchini kibbeh might taste better with a layer of hummus on top of it. I also plan on warming up a chunk of my kibbeh, frying an egg, and putting it on top. In my imagination, at least, this vegetarian kebbeh would taste good with a fried egg plopped on it.

So, one day I'll probably make this again with some changes and, on another day, I'll make a more traditional kibbeh (there are tons of recipes online). My guess is that kibbeh with meat and onion and cinnamon, allspice, or cloves will be really good.

3.  I finished Lucy Cooke's chapter on penguins this evening. I had no idea that penguins were so sexually versatile, even indiscriminate.  Now I know.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/19/20: Family Dinner in Memory of Mom, Spices, Ducks Women Cruise

1.  Today was Mom's 89th birthday and Christy hosted family dinner.  She didn't try to replicate Mom's cooking, but made one of my favorite meals Mom used to cook as a tribute to her. We began with one of Mom's favorite drinks, a daiquiri on the rocks. Christy made cheese balls, using, in part, that cheese that comes in jars (like Mom did) and we had cheese and crackers for appetizers. For the main course, Christy made a Sunday dinner favorite when we were growing up, ham and bean soup and accompanied it with corn bread and cole slaw made from a Sunset magazine recipe that she and Mom shared. For dessert, Christy baked oatmeal and pecan cookies and served the kind of after dinner drinks Mom enjoyed. I chose a brandy Alexander. I could have ordered a variant on the pink squirrel that Christy called a brown squirrel. I'm not sure, but I think it was an almond flavored drink that featured amaretto -- the pink squirrel features creme de noyaux, unavailable at the Kellogg Liquor Store. Mom loved these sweet after dinner drinks and famously chugged them, a longstanding source of good humor in our family when she was with us. (None of us, by the way, chugged ours!)

Mom devoted a lot of her time to food. She collected recipes. She shopped for our food. She was our family's only cook for many years -- Dad started doing some cooking after he retired and as we kids got older, we'd do some cooking when we came home to visit.

I listened tonight while Christy and Carol shared memories of their favorite Mary Woolum meals. They talked about pork chops, roasts, spaghetti, macaroni with hamburger and tomato sauce, Mom's homemade bread and rolls, vegetable soup, fried chicken, vegetable soup, beef stew, and, I'm sure, other meals.

Later, after this conversation ended, I remembered how much I enjoyed Mom's Sunday dinners. When she did it, Sunday was the day when Mom baked dinner rolls or bread, baked cinnamon rolls, or orange rolls. Her Sunday dinners often featured entrees that paired well with homemade bread: ham and bean soup, stew, other soups, and, my favorite, Mom's chili with ground beef. Mom didn't (very often, if ever) use canned beans and when she cooked dried beans the windows in the kitchen and living room steamed up. Our house was always warm, but when Mom fixed bean soups, the house was like a steam room. The moist heat was comforting and memorable, matched only by the comfort of the smell of ham broth simmering or the sweet chili powder and tomato smell of the her chili bubbling away or the smell of ground beef and onion frying.

Happy Birthday, Mom! We had a lot of fun eating food cooked in your style tonight and remembering how happy you made us with the countless dinners you prepared.

2. I guess it's a well-known fact in our family that I enjoy the foods of the Middle East. On Christmas (or was it my birthday?) of 2018, Carol and Paul gave me a beautiful cookbook of vegetarian Middle East recipes (perfect for the care of my kidneys) and on Christmas Day, 2019, Zoe gave me another beautiful cookbook of Palestinian recipes. Before we moved to Maryland, I owned a book I bought at the now defunct Eugene branch of the Book Bin (formerly the site of Original Joe's, now the site of Sushi Ya) back in about 1993 or 1994 of Lebanese recipes I loved. I lost track of that favorite cookbook when we moved from Eugene -- either I accidentally donated it to Goodwill or it was in a box that got lost in transit between Eugene and Greenbelt. I miss it. I've tried to remember its title, without luck, and so have never recovered it. (Losses like this happen. We live, after all, in an impermanent, transitory reality.)

Over the last year, one thing has kept from cooking out of these cookbooks: local access the recipes' spices. When I run into some of you who read this blog, some of you comment to me that you can tell I really miss living in Maryland, near Washington, D. C. I try to explain that I love both North Idaho and Maryland. I miss where I used to live and I love where I am.


Now, one of the things I miss about living back East is the access to international food stores -- whether, to name a few,  Indian, pan-Asian, Mexican, or, this weekend, Middle Eastern. (If you are thinking, as you read this, "But, Bill, there's the internet!" I know. I'm getting to that. Just let me say that I like smelling my international food purchases and I can't do this online!)

So, I sat here today wistfully remembering back to August 27, 2018 when Melissa and I met up with Erik and we swam around Manhattan in the most unbearable humidity I've ever experienced and, among other places, popped into Kalusyan's, an entire store (with cafe) devoted to the sale of Indian and Middle East spices, teas, and other global food items.

It was intoxicating. The smells of curry, anise and fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, chilies, paprika, turmeric, etc. not to mention the incense, oils, and teas made me lightheaded with pleasure.

Since such markets are not a part of the Silver Valley landscape, I am going through recipes, deciding which spices I want to have on hand that aren't at Yoke's.  I'm preparing to make an online order. I could order from Kalusyan's. I can definitely order from Penzey's. Maybe both. I'll decide. But I'm looking forward to having za'atar, cardamom pods, and other spices on hand and making some of these dishes.

3. It's rare to watch the U of Oregon women's basketball team play and see Sabrina Ionescu not be in the spotlight. But, essentially, that's what happened today when the Ducks played Cal. It seemed pretty clear to me (and Coach Graves confirmed it in his halftime interview) that the Ducks wanted, for starters, to get Minyon Moore some early shots, and, if she hit them, build her confidence.

This happened.

In addition, lanes to the hoop opened up for Satou Sabally and she made a variety of spinning and muscular drives to the iron as well as peppering some shots from outside and scored 31 points.

I was very happy to watch Erin Boley convert six of her eight three point attempts and score 22 points. If this was a confidence building game for Boley and if she is finding her rhythm and touch from distance, look out. It means opponents will have to stretch their defenses to account for her, opening up room inside for Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard to run their pick and rolls,  Moore to score on drives and midrange jumpers, and for Sabally to find those open lanes to make her dazzling moves to the cup.

By the way, the Ducks won in a blowout, 105-55. Players who normally spend a lot of time on the pine got quite a bit of playing time this afternoon, giving the starters a perfect balance of playing time and time on the bench to rest their joints and conserve energy for future games.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/18/20: Johnnies Are Improving, Ducks Win in OT, Wildcats Defeat Bonners Ferry

1. This morning, as I see it, college basketball fans got a chance to see just how good St. John's might be as this this season plunges deeper into conference play. I've made the following point before: St. John's plays harassing, relentless, hounding defense, from baseline to baseline. They turn their opponents over a lot. This is terrific. But, there's a problem: they haven't had a ton of success translating these turnovers into points and they've had problems scoring out of their set offense.

I think there's good reason for this: Mike Anderson is coaching the Johnnies for the first year; only two experienced players returned from last year's team; Anderson is working with different combinations of players, seeking to find which players work well together and who the Johnnies' scorers will be.

The Johnnies faced Seton Hall this morning at Madison Square Garden. Seton Hall has been blossoming into a well-rounded offensive squad, led by the peerless Myles Powell, and has developed into a stern defensive team. Coming into today's tilt, Seton Hall was atop the Big East standings, yet to lose a conference game. St. John's conversely had only won once in conference.

In today's first half, everything clicked for the Johnnies. As expected, they hounded Seton Hall into bad passes and made occasional steals off of the Pirates' dribble, making it difficult for Seton Hall to get comfortable on offense. What was not expected was that the Johnnies had a terrific scoring half in the first stanza. Mustapha Heron splashed shots from the outside. L. J. Figueroa scored in a variety of ways. The Johnnies raced to a thirteen point half time lead, 43-30.

In the second half, Seton Hall not only handled St. John's pressure more surely, they applied some full and three quarter defensive pressure on the Johnnies and it bothered St. John's. Myles Powell hadn't scored much in the first half, but came alive in the second, scoring from distance and on some mighty drives to the iron and finished with 29 points. Quincy McKnight was instrumental in keeping Seton Hall's second half possessions clean and scored 20 points.  Romaro Gill continued his emergence as a force in the pivot and scored key buckets and free throws.

Seton Hall erased St. John's thirteen point lead and with their better offensive balance, tight defense, and ability to hit shots in pressure packed situations, eked out a victory, 82-79.

It's got to be tough for St. John's not to get demoralized. They are fortunate to have, in Mike Anderson, an experienced and patient coach with a quiet disposition who, as far as I can see, is positive and encouraging from the bench during games. (I don't know how he comports himself in practice.) I hope the Johnnies learned a lot today about just how potent they can be and continue to gel. No, they won't win the conference, but they could make life difficult for teams higher up in the standings and could develop into a formidable team by the time the conference tournament rolls around in March.

2. The other televised game I cared a lot about today? The Oregon Ducks playing the Washington Huskies in Seattle.

For much of this game, the Ducks looked impotent against the Huskies' match-up zone defense. Husky coach Mike Hopkins learned while serving as Jim Boeheim's longtime assistant at Syracuse that the 2-3 match up zone defense requires players with a lot of length -- not only tall players, but ones with long arms. He's recruited such players. It's a difficult defense to score against and it gave the Ducks a lot of difficulties for much of the game. At the same time, especially in the first half, the Huskies were, well, unconscious on offense, especially freshman guard, Marcus Tsohonis and their mighty freshman inside, Isaiah Stewart. The Huskies built a 37-25 lead at halftime.

With just over ten minutes remaining in the game, the Huskies extended their lead to 16 points, 48-32.

Soon, however, the game's momentum shifted for a couple of reason. First of all, Oregon went into a full court press that flustered the Huskies into turnovers and seemed to affect their confidence in setting up their offense and scoring.  At the same time, Oregon began to unlock the Huskies' match up zone. The match up zone has cracks in it, especially about twelve feet from the basket in the key. If a team can make passes into this area and if the player receiving those passes makes sound decisions whether to shoot the mid-range jumper, kick the ball back outside, or drive to the hoop, an offense can begin to pick this defense apart.

All game long, the Ducks seemed to be searching for the right player to flash across the key, set up in the vulnerable spot, and make things happen. In the second half, that player turned out to be Chandler Lawson. From that spot in the key, he made some great plays. I especially like it when he drove to the cup, created some two on one situations near the hoop and either he or a teammate scored inside. In addition to the emergence of Lawson, the Ducks' Payton Pritchard hit some shots under pressure; Chris Duarte hit one, too, and lo and behold, the game went into overtime.

In the last ten seconds of overtime, with the game tied and with time nearly expired on the shot clock, Payton Pritchard craftily created a tiny amount of space between himself and Husky defender Jamal Bey. He launched a rainmaker from beyond the three point arc, an atmospheric parabola that took what seemed like several seconds to return to Earth, and it was all nylon. Swish!

The Huskies had very little time to organize a last second shot, failed to do so, and the Ducks won a comeback thriller, 64-61.

It was what Byrdman and I might call a Petula Clark finish for the Ducks. The game winner came from "Downtown" and the Ducks epitomized Petula Clark's advice from another song: "Don't Give Up".

My final assessment? I think the Ducks are very much a work in progress. They are playing with a lot of new players on their roster and I don't think, understandably, that they've quite worked out which players perform the best with which others. Today, Chandler Lawson scored 16 points. His previous high scoring game had been half that. Will he continue to be productive or will support for Payton Pritchard come from elsewhere and will the time come when the Ducks have a more solid idea of who their most reliable players are?  Right now, aside from the ever reliable Pritchard, it's unpredictable who will be the second, third, and even fourth scoring option. Some nights it's been Will Richardson. Others nights, Chris Durate. Today it was Chandler Lawson. Again, this is very much a team still working to define and discover itself. (And the Ducks aren't alone. It's a common challenge across the college basketball landscape.)

3. You'd think after two breathtaking games -- and some other televised action I haven't mentioned (Marquette/Georgetown and Louisville/Duke) -- I would have had enough basketball for one day.

Not the case.

Around six o'clock I blasted the Sube up to Andrews Memorial Gymnasium, to The Drew, to watch Kellogg play Bonners Ferry.

I arrived in time to watch about three quarters of the girls' varsity squad defeat the Badgers, 60-46. I hope to watch the girls play more often. I don't have a very good sense, after only seeing them play today, just what I think their team is about, aside from my impression that sophomore Hailey Cheney is developing into a very solid player.

When the boys' starting five was introduced before the game's opening tip, I was very surprised that their senior sharp shooter and reliable ball handler, Graden Nearing, was not starting. I sat in the bleachers opposite the Kellogg bench and, upon examination, saw that Nearing was wearing some kind of a cast or brace on his right arm and was injured.

So, I wondered, how will the Wildcats perform without Nearing?

After one quarter, sluggishly. Kellogg only scored eight points in the first quarter and Bonners Ferry led, 12-8.

This is the third straight season I've attended Wildcat games.

Clearly, they are a defense first team. They pressure opponents the length of the court with active feet and work hard to disrupt passes, pick an opponent's pocket from time to time off the dribble, and work hard to score points in the open court off their defense.

This is exactly what happened tonight. As the game progressed, Kellogg pressured Bonners Ferry into more and more mistakes. They scored a string of close in baskets. When Brandon Miller nailed a three pointer, maybe in the second half, I think it was their only basket from beyond the arc.

I admire the Wildcats' defensive persistence, what fine physical condition they're in, their hard work as rebounders, the way Coach Nearing substitutes freely, and their determination to score at close range, especially with their best long range scorer out with injury. Kellogg will never dominate an opponent with height and size. They are not a great outside shooting team, especially with Graden Nearing injured. They scrap. They get under their opponents' skin. They do everything they can on defense and on the boards to compensate for where they lack in size and certain skills. I very much enjoy watching the Wildcats play and am looking forward to Tuesday's game against Sandpoint.

I haven't seen a box score for this game and I couldn't tell you who Kellogg's leading scorer was. My impression was that several players scored. I thought it was a great team effort on defense and on offense. I was impressed that after only scoring 8 first quarter points, the Wildcats ended the game with 70 points and ended up cruising to a 70-56 victory.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/17/20: Tired, Back to Lucy Cooke, Highway to Hell

1. Some things in my life just make me tired. Some I understand, others I don't.  Among them are shoveling snow, driving in snow, medical appointments, and dental appointments -- even when the doctors' or the dental hygienist/dentist's news is good. I don't fight the fatigue. I rest.

So, I realized this morning, after having a fun breakfast at Sam's with the guys, that, once I got the sidewalks cleared of snow and ice, I was going to stay home today, hope no more snow would fall in the Silver Valley, and take it easy.

I had all the essentials for such a day: coffee, containers of leftover soup I'd made, crackers and cheese, hot chocolate mix, Lucy Cooke's book I haven't finished yet, and late afternoon/early evening Big 10 basketball, telecast on FS1.

2. Returning to Lucy Cooke's book, The Truth About Animals, was a pleasure. She writes about different animals like moose, hippos, penguins, pandas, and others with intelligence, deep research, and wit. Consistently, she examines the impact upon animal life of both human thought (found in assumptions and in different writings) and actions. It's almost always destructive. I suppose, even though she never comes right out and says it, that the human assumption and the ensuing activity that most disrupts the animal world (and the larger world of nature) is the idea that humans can manage nature. Often these management projects, like creating eel farms, artificially inseminating pandas, or trying to bring rogue hippos in Colombia under control are attempts to solve problems brought about by the human pursuit of profit or pleasure -- or both.

Eels are tasty. A pleasure. Overfishing them has caused a serious depletion of their numbers. The result? Eel farms and the "production" of inferior eels;   and, in the wild, a continued depletion of the eel population and interruption of their spawning habits.

Humans, through the expansion of cities, have seriously encroached upon panda habitat. In addition, because pandas are popular in zoos, humans have tried to manage the reproduction of pandas in captivity -- but pandas mate in conditions that can't be replicated in captivity and so, in order to produce more of the profitable pandas, the pandas are inseminated artificially.

Why is there a rogue hippo problem in Colombia? The drug lord Pablo Escobar populated his lavish property with animals imported from around the world, including the hippo. The hippo is an invasive species. In Colombia, the hippos live outside their natural habitat and their natural ways of mating and it drives the male hippos bonkers. No hippo enemies (except humans) reside in Colombia and so humans intervene, try to castrate the hippos, a very difficult task, and take other measures to try to bring the hippos under control -- to manage them.

So, for me, Lucy Cooke's book is both delightful and disturbing. It's a study of human hubris. I'm disturbed by this -- and I'm complicit. I know that. But, she's also a wildly funny writer, especially when she write about the crazy misconceptions naturalists and theologically-minded writers have had of certain animals over the centuries and when she writes about the the reproductive anatomy and mating habits of these different animals.

3. In keeping with our habit of talking about sports, especially college basketball, by using song titles, Byrdman today referred to Big 10 teams playing on the road as "Highway to Hell". I guess I could add that it's a real problem for road teams who start out games "Cold as Ice" and that was the case for the Wisconsin Badgers today in their game with the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans answered the Badgers' cold shooting with some cold blooded sharp shooting of their own and skated to a 67-55 victory.

The "Highway to Hell" for the Michigan Wolverines led them to Iowa City and a tilt with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Michigan fared a little better than Wisconsin, but, in the end they couldn't overcome the Iowa's nearly unstoppable beast in the pivot, Luka Garza, nor the great disparity between the two teams at the free throw line. I mean, get this: Iowa put up 30 charity tosses and made 27 of them; Michigan only hoisted 5 freebies, making 4 of them. That helps anyone wondering why playing on the road is a "Highway to Hell". Nothing like home cookin'!

Actually, the Beatles recorded a song on what's known as the White Album to describe the Iowa/Michigan game. It was "Helter Skelter". Both teams played at a fast tempo. Shots flew up in a hurry. It was a frantic and very entertaining game, hard fought, physical, stocked with steals, hustle plays, finesse, and brute force. Iowa prevailed, 90-83, thanks in large part to Luka Garza's 33 points, supported by the deadeye shooting of CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp who combined to pop in 41 points.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/16/20: Dental Success, Chicken Soup, Kellogg Defeats Wallace

1. I sat down in the chair at the dentist today with high hopes. I guess I was relaxed, too: my blood pressure was 122/78. That's golden. I've followed Kathy's dental care suggestions: I use a water flosser; I also floss regularly with dental floss, especially while watching stuff in the Vizio room; I use an electric toothbrush; I wear a mouth guard every night; I have a cleaning done every four months rather than six months.

It's working. Kathy was very happy with the condition of my gums and teeth and when the dentist took his peek in my mouth, he didn't stay long at all -- he was pleased with how everything looked.

2. Several days ago, I thawed a quart of chicken stock I had made. Today, I finally used it. I simmered three drumsticks in the stock along with a onion slices, chopped celery, and a half a red pepper chopped. After about 45 minutes or so, the drumsticks were cooked. I removed them, let them cool, took the meat off, dropped the meat in the pot, and added two chopped red potatoes. I cooked this soup slowly for a while more until the potatoes were tender and then enjoyed a couple steamy bowls of bracing chicken soup.

3. For the first time this season, I drove up to Andrews Memorial Gymnasium (I call it "The Drew") at Kellogg High School to watch the boys' junior varsity and varsity teams play cross county rival, Wallace.

Kellogg won both games. The junior varsity game was a helter skelter affair. Both teams pushed the pace of the game and, in the end, this pace seemed to favor the hometown Wildcats. Repeatedly, Kellogg scored breakaway baskets on long passes from the Wallace end into Kellogg's court. I couldn't quite figure out how the Wildcats succeeded so many time in scoring this way -- I suppose it was as simple as Wallace just wasn't getting back on defense.

Kellogg's varsity team features a freshman point guard, Riply Luna, setting up the offense for four returning players, junior Logan Jerome, and seniors Brandon Miller, Graden Nearing, and Gavin Luna. Graden Nearing is a sharp shooter from distance, but, as I noted last season, he has also become a much more assertive player, willing and determined to drive to the cup. Both Gavin Luna and Logan Jerome were strong rebounders tonight and Gavin Luna led the Wildcats in scoring with a variety of shots inside, asserting his strength and deft shooting touch from different angles. Brandon Miller plays on the edge of being out of control. He loves pushing the ball up court, sometimes successfully scoring on drives, but sometimes he gets a little wild and takes questionable shots. He also likes to hoist a few shots from long range, with mixed success.

The Wildcats pressure their opponents with a full court defense. In order to maintain this effort, Coach Jeff Nearing freely substitutes players, so that those who are on the floor are as fresh as possible and can play the relentless defense Nearing demands of his players.

Wallace and Kellogg played almost to a draw in the first half with the Wildcats holding a slim two point margin at half time. Within myself, I thought that Kellogg looked like the stronger and deeper team and I predicted, in silence, that Kellogg would wear down Wallace, and stretch their slim half time lead.

I was right.

Wallace didn't have the stamina to match Kellogg's depth. The Wildcats took over the inside game, with several players, but especially Gavin Luna, scoring on drives, off of entry passes, and with putting back missed shots. Kellogg outscored Wallace 39-18 in the second half. Gavin Luna led the Wildcats with 24 points and 13 rebounds and Graden Nearing added 17 points, despite sitting out much of the first half with foul trouble.

The final score: Kellogg 67 Wallace 44.

I'll return to The Drew on Saturday when the Wildcats host Bonners Ferry at 7 p.m.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/15/2020: Great Kidney Checkup, Major Purchase!, Wild Night in Basketball

1. This morning, first thing, I plowed through the snow and over the icy roads of Kellogg for my first visit with Dr. Scott Bieber, the nephrologist who replaced Dr. Kristie Jones as the one who comes to Kellogg once a month.

My hope was that Dr. Bieber would be similar to the three previous nephrologists I've seen regularly: intelligent, easy to talk with, relaxed, low key, positive, and straight forward.

He is.

I started seeing a nephrologist to monitor this kidney disease fifteen years ago in Eugene. Visits have gone from once a year to twice a year to once every three months.

From the start, I've been told that mine was a very slow progressing disease and in my consultation with Dr. Bieber today, he said the same thing.

My kidney function, which registered at 13% in November -- a low number caused, most likely, by dehydration -- came back up to 15%. Stable. Dr. Bieber, like Dr. Jones before him, said it's likely, unless I develop ancillary problems like diabetes or heart disease, that my kidneys will likely stay in this 10-15% range for the next few years.

I continue not to experience symptoms; Dr. Bieber reviewed those symptoms with me.

Dr. Bieber supported my decision to remain inactive on the transplant list -- he agrees that, right now, the need for a transplant isn't urgent.

All of this was good news and I was so happy and relieved when I returned home that,after taking care of a few things, I went back to bed and fell into a near comatose state of deep and grateful sleep.

2. Before I arrived home, I made a purchase I've been thinking long and hard about the last several days.

I wouldn't call it retail therapy, exactly, but I was happy when I walked out of Ace Hardware with a new snow shovel and bag of deicer.

I was even happier when I deiced our sidewalks, and was especially glad to melt the ice/snow chunks I couldn't shovel away that had stuck to the sidewalk after being thrown up there by a snow plow. (No complaints!)

3. As I thought it might be, tonight's Big East game between Seton Hall and Butler, both undefeated in conference play, was thrilling. In the end, Seton Hall's lock down defense prevailed in support of Myles Powell's 29 points. Powell's scored off of steals, with drives to the iron, by hitting a handful of three pointers, and from the free throw line -- twice he got fouled beyond the arc and converted all six charity tosses. It was not, however, a one man scoring effort. Three other Pirates, Quincy McKnight, Romaro Gill, and Jared Rhoden, also scored in double figures and Rhoden hit a three point dagger late in the game that doomed Butler to defeat. I love how players like McKnight, Gill, and Rhoden are emerging as excellent scorers, making Seton Hall an increasingly well-rounded team. I was also very impressed with the dogged and enthusiastic defensive effort off the bench of Shavar Reynolds. He's also emerging as a very valuable player for the Pirates.

It was a dizzying night in college basketball. Several favored teams went down in defeat. Kentucky lost to South Carolina. Auburn lost to Alabama. Butler lost to Seton Hall. Creighton lost to Georgetown. Wichita State lost to Temple.

It was a wild season already and tonight made things a little wilder.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/14/20: Debbie Returns to Eugene, A Near Miracle, *Vera* and the Big East Conference

1. I woke up this morning determined, no matter what the weather, to drive Debbie to Spokane International Airport to catch her 3:25 flight to Portland and than another to Eugene.

We woke up to snow falling, but as I checked updates online about the 4th of July Pass, the conditions looked good. As I filled the Sube's gas tank at the Gondolier, I overheard a guy bellowing to a woman outside the convenience store about how he'd just come over the pass and didn't have any trouble. The guy's bellowing, by the way, was not emotional bellowing. He simply possessed a megaphone voice.

Debbie agreed with my desire to leave early enough that I could drive back to Kellogg in daylight. So we left shortly after noon and, indeed, the road conditions were pretty good and we arrived at the airport in good time.

As I began my return drive, another snow storm revved up. Some cars had slid off the road between Spokane and Spokane Valley. I didn't have any problems and was happy traffic was moving slowly. Once in Idaho, road condition temporarily improved. Along with other drivers in the right hand lane, I took it easy, didn't push anyone to go faster and no one pushed at me.

Things started getting a little bit more difficult coming down the east side of the pass and at about Cataldo the snow fell hard and fast. Visibility diminished. The snow started to pile on the freeway a bit. It felt to me like the Sube was getting good traction, but, again, I didn't push it. I had some good company in the right hand lane with big trucks and a few cars who were content to travel at a moderate speed. I didn't mind the pickups and cars that whizzed by me in the passing lane. That's not my way, though, and as I eased up the exit ramp and turned left on Bunker Ave. and made my way to a right on West Cameron, I was relieved to be back in Kellogg. The storm was still fairly new when I got to town, but it continued for quite a while.

Later on, I sat silently and was thankful, thankful that Debbie agreed to arrive at the airport way early and that my drive home was in daylight; thankful that, upon arriving home, I fixed myself a dry martini up, stirred not shaken, and enjoyed it, followed by a most welcome nap; thankful to be warm and secure in my house because the storm, which had only just begun when I was on the road, gathered more strength in the ensuing hours and things looked nasty outside.

2. The Big East cellar dwellers, DePaul, visited Villanova tonight. It's the game I decided to watch, even though it was possible that Villanova would cruise to a win.

From the get go, it was clear that Villanova would not be cruising tonight. They trailed DePaul by as many as thirteen points in the first half, but a late surge put them ahead by 2 at halftime.

It looked like the game was virtually in the bag for Villanova when they held an eleven point lead with just over two minutes left to play. I was too lazy to change the channel and am grateful for my sloth.

DePaul turned up the defensive pressure; Villanova suddenly became unhinged; they turned the ball over; they surrendered points. Miraculously, DePaul made up those eleven points in the last two minutes and sent the game into overtime.

The miracle didn't last long. Villanova regained its composure and eked out a 79-75 win.

Sidenote: DePaul's men's basketball team features Pantelis Xidias, the most animated end of the bench player I've ever seen. When DePaul does anything good, Pantelis Xidias, a walk-on guard,  with his black-rimmed goggles and shock of sandy hair might dance; he might shimmy; he might appear to be running in place; he might make gestures moving has hand from mouth into the air, like he's blowing kisses; he might pogo up and down in ecstasy. He exerts almost as much energy celebrating as the players on the court who inspire his ongoing carnival of exultation.

If there were a John R. Wooden Award bestowed upon the most enthusiasm expressed by a bench player who essentially never sees any action, Pantelis Xidias would win it in a landslide.

3. I spent the evening enjoying two very different television programs. First, I sat in awe watching an episode of Vera.  DCI Vera Stanhope waded into the wealth and glamor of the beauty parlor world and doggedly got to the bottom of a grisly murder that took place during a high-priced, booze-drenched, wild night of throbbing music and dancing on a pleasure boat on a local river.

Afterward, I flipped over to ESPN+ and watched a 30 for 30 documentary, Requiem for the Big East. In many ways, it was a history, simultaneously, of the Big East basketball conference -- which began play in 1979-80 -- and ESPN, which began broadcasting at roughly the same time. I loved remembering the early hey days of Big East play, the splendid players, the passionate coaches, the heated rivalries, the rough and physical style of play, and this new conference's almost immediate successes on the national college basketball scene.

Inevitably, the original Big East conference disintegrated. The film explains the disintegration. It's too complicated for me to explain, but, really, it all came down to money -- and college football.

I'm really happy that a new Big East conference rose out of the ashes of the original conference nearly burning to the ground. I spend a lot of time these days watching games featuring original conference members Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Georgetown, and Villanova and the new members of the conference, Creighton, DePaul, Marquette, Butler, and Xavier as they all play each other.

But the special alchemy of players, coaches, rules that allowed more physical play, and star players staying at their schools longer that defined the Big East of the 1980s will never happen again.

So be it.

Tonight, I loved going back 30-40 years, seeing clips of some of the most intense games ever played in college basketball, hearing what Chris Mullen, Patrick Ewing, Dwayne Washington, and Ed Pinckney had to say in 2014 as they reflected back on playing in those games, and listening to the coaches of that era, especially Lou Carnesseca, Jim Boeheim, Rollie Massimino, and John Thompson share their memories and give their insights.

For anyone (including those who hated this conference (!)), who loves the history of NCAA men's college basketball, this documentary will transport you back to a scintillating period of time in both the sport of basketball and the history of sports broadcasting on television.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/13/20: Winter Workout, Fish Chowder, Acorn TV

1. I haven't been hiking since winter hit. I miss the activity and the exercise. Today, however, I got my heart pounding a bit and got a little bit winded shoveling the several inches of medium heavy snow off our sidewalks, off Christy and Everett's, and off our driveway.

2. I thawed a quart of crab stock. I finely chopped and sauteed garlic, an onion, a couple carrots, and some celery. I poured a couple of teaspoons of flour over the vegetables until the mixture got pasty. Next came the crab stock, about a quarter of a cup at a time, and I added a small head of chopped cauliflower florets (a sub for potatoes). Once the cauliflower was tender to the fork, I poured in a load of shrimp and pieces of cooked salmon burger and added about a half to three quarters of a cup of half and half. I heated it up.

Debbie and I thoroughly enjoyed our fish chowder.

3. I learned this evening that Debbie had recently subscribed to Acorn TV through Amazon Prime.

This meant one thing for me: a return to Foyle's War. I don't actually remember which episodes I saw a few years ago so I just jumped into an episode tonight centered on the death of a conscientious objector while he was in police custody. It was a whopper and dealt not only with Foyle's investigation, but with several other aspects of WWII: children evacuated from London, xenophobia, cruelty toward conscientious objectors, and a coffin factory, among others. Foyle was most impressive as he calmly and rationally got to the bottom of the murders he was investigating.

Acorn TV also carries Slings and Arrows. I decided to jump into the third season and start watching episodes built around the New Burbage Festival mounting of a production of King Lear.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/12/20: Grounded, Hamburger Soup, Thoughts About the U of O Women's BB Team

1. The plan was to drive to the Spokane International Airport this morning and send Debbie off to Portland and then Eugene. We got up. Snow was piling up. Debbie spoke first. "Let's stay home." We bagged it. We'll try again on Tuesday.

2. I finely chopped up an eggplant and put the pieces in the oven to roast. While it roasted, I finely chopped three garlic cloves, an onion, a couple stalks of celery, and a half a red pepper. I threw the garlic into some heated up olive oil. When it became fragrant, I added the onion, celery, and pepper. I cooked these until nearly tender, took the eggplant out of the oven, and added about of pound of ground beef to the vegetables I'd softened. I sprinkled some pepper, Montreal steak seasoning, and oregano over the ground beef. The meat browned. I added the eggplant, a can of fire roasted dice tomatoes, and a quart of beef broth. I brought it to a gentle boil, turned down the heat, and let this soup/stew simmer. A little later, I decided it would perk up this soup/stew if I added Worcestershire sauce. I was correct. Debbie and I both enjoyed this stew/soup for dinner.

3. One purpose a blog can serve is to try out ideas -- tentative ideas or unformed insights.

I'd like to try one out here, but it's based on very little observation and I'm not ready to make an argument about this.

For the first time all season, today I watched the Oregon Ducks women's team play. I only got to see about the last quarter and a half and enjoyed the way the Ducks persevered and beat Arizona, 71-64.

I loved watching last season's Duck women's team and one of my favorite players was Maite Cazorla. I enjoyed how she got the Ducks into their sets, provided calm leadership, and, on occasion, she scored -- but, mostly she facilitated the team's offense and played excellent defense.

Today, I thought the Ducks missed Cazorla -- but maybe they don't -- maybe I miss her (!).

I want to watch more of the Ducks and see what I think. In the off-season, the Ducks landed Minyon Moore, a grad transfer from USC, as a guard for this team. I remember being very impressed with Moore's play at USC last year. I now want to get a better sense of what she brings to the Ducks. I don't expect her to replace Cazorla, but a team with as much fire power as the Ducks needs a solid facilitator to bring out the best in these electrifying players. My hope is that as I watch the Ducks more often, I'll see that Minyon Moore (or someone) will take over this role.

Let me add, there's no doubt that Sabrina Ionescu serves as a facilitator, especially running pick and roll plays with Ruthy Hebard, but the great things she does often happen after the offense has been set up. I thought setting things up was Maite Cazorla's strength and I couldn't tell today if this part of their offense might need improvement.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/11/20: Big East Blow Out, Ali Frazier II, Dinner at The Lounge

1. I watched three Big East Conference games in a row today, starting at 9 a.m. Here are a few observations:

Villanova defeated Georgetown, 80-66.

From last year's superb team, Villanova lost two exceptional seniors, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. Coach Jay Wright's challenge this year is to develop new leadership on this year's team and learn what players his team can depend on for scoring, especially when a game is tight. For much of this season, Collin Gillespie has filled that role, but as the season continues into conference play, Saddiq Bey is emerging as a premier player and today he had a dazzling game, scoring 33 points. Jermaine Samuels and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl are also maturing as key Villanova players and so the Wildcats are developing into an increasingly potent and balanced team, persistent on defense and becoming more versatile offensively.

Creighton defeated Xavier, 77-65.

When Creighton's guards pepper the hoop with consistent scoring, the Bluejays torment their opponents. Today those guards, Mitch Ballock, Ty-Shon Alexander, and Marcus Zegarowski combined for 48 points. Xavier had to defend these guards far from the basket. It stretched their defense and opened up space for Christian Bishop and Denzel Mahoney to also score in double figures and Creighton secured a vital win on the road in Cincinnati.

In the game I was most looking forward to watching, Seton Hall defeated Marquette, 69-55.

I nicknamed this game "Ali vrs. Frazier".  It featured the conference's two best guards, Myles Powell for Seton Hall and Markus Howard for Marquette.

Powell (23 points) and Howard (27 points) both led their respective teams in scoring, but on both offense and defense, Powell had more support from stronger and better teammates. Seton Hall plays tenacious defense both on the exterior and inside. Their two 7' 2" centers, Romaro Gill and Ike Obiagu, demoralized Marquette inside, swatting away several shots and discouraging the Golden Eagles from taking shots close to the cup. Moreover, in the second half, having surrendered a seven or eight point lead, Seton Hall called upon reserves Anthony Nelson, Shavar Reynolds, and Tyrese Samuel to give the starters a rest and to rev up the Pirates. They succeeded. Nelson scored four points and hit Reynolds with a pinpoint pass from under the cup to outside the three point line, Reynolds hit the trey, and Seton Hall regained their lead.  The starters returned rested. Marquette tried to claw back again, but didn't -- and Seton Hall remains atop the Big East.

2. The Pac 12 had its own version of Ali/Frazier. Remy Martin and Payton Pritchard might be the conference's two top point guards and both registered spirited performances. I didn't see the first half, but I learned after tuning in during the second half that Pritchard had hit a handful of moon shots from behind the arc.

When I did tune in, ASU was pressing the Ducks, feverishly working to trim the Ducks' lead. Remy Martin shouldered much of their scoring effort and Eddie House's kid, Jaelen, valiantly tried to defend Pritchard, containing him at times, but not stopping him. Similar to the Seton Hall squad, Oregon had stronger players, more depth than ASU; Pritchard had options for giving up the ball that Martin didn't have on the ASU side, but, believe me, Pritchard made great plays scoring, too. He's spectacular and sparked the Ducks to a 78-69 victory.

3. Debbie and I popped uptown to the deserted streets of Kellogg for a visit to the Lounge, the Inland Lounge. It was quiet. Cas had plenty of time to yak and laugh with us. We ordered egg rolls and seafood lo mein from Wah Hing and ate dinner at the bar. I paired my dinner with a couple cans of Coca Cola poured over ice with lemon slices and it was a perfect match.